In One Word

In One Word, Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell is…


  • First published in 2017 by Hot Key Books
  • Format: Audiobook
    • Narrator: Joe Jameson
    • Listening Speed: 1x
  • Listening Time: 5 magical days


  • Switching back to the Popsugar Reading Challenge for ‘a book that has a heart, diamond, club or spade on the cover’. This one not only has a diamond on the cover but it has a playing card as well so that’s even better. The story follows Kellen, an apprentice mage who is about to face the four trials required to become a full Jan’Tep mage and bring prestige to his family at a time when it is needed most. One slight problem – his magic has disappeared. Without it, he will be disowned and named Shar’Tep, a second class citizen whose only prospects are to become a servant of the Jan’Tep. Not even being a son of someone as powerful as Kellen’s father will save him from being cast out of his home. Kellen will have to resort to cunning and trickery to avoid that fate but, then, an audacious stranger comes to town, wasting no time in mocking the formidable Jan’Tep to their faces and showing Kellen that being a Jan’Tep might not be as prestigious or as honourable as he has been taught to believe.
  • Pace was good and swift throughout with never a dull moment or a moment when Kellen isn’t in some kind of danger, either physically or from the risk of being ostracised and declared Shar’Tep. Kellen is never given long to enjoy his victories either before a new crisis emerges and we can enjoy seeing him figure out a creative way around it.
  • Excellent characterisation. Kellen’s character development feels natural and very satisfying. Every other character gets a decent amount of development too. Apart from a few exceptions, they are all complex individuals trapped by an uncompromising institution. When they do something wrong, it isn’t because they’re evil. They’re just misguided or, if they know they’re doing something wrong like Nephenia does, they do it because they feel the cost of not doing it would be too great. It’s a really great portrayal of peer pressure that doesn’t involve clumsy threats from the person’s peers. Even Kellen’s parents, who clearly favour his more powerful sister and are willing to do some terrible things to uphold the family’s position in the Jan’Tep, aren’t seen as one-dimensional abusers. They’re just blinkered by their own ambitions and have a skewed view of what is best for their family.
  • Liked the magic system. The mages in the Jan’Tep develop their magic at an early age and it’s shown by ‘sparking their bands’ – a process where the tattoos they’ve been given as children start to change to show when they are capable of each type of magic. They aren’t the usual kinds of elemental magic either. They have names like breath magic and silk magic which aren’t obvious at first but you will pick up what they’re about later in the book. Crucially, the author doesn’t write himself into a corner. On the contrary, he makes it quite clear that every spell will always have a counter-spell and that spells can be used in creative ways, opening up the possibility of the rules being broken later down the line.
  • Loved Ferius Parfax so much. She made me smile every time she entered the scene because I just knew that she was going to do or say something brilliant. I always couldn’t wait to see how she’d show the Jan’Tep up next. She is the breath of fresh air the Jan’Tep desperately need but definitely don’t want. It helped that the cowboy-ish accent the narrator used was easy to listen to as well.
  • Brilliant writing throughout that really gets into Kellen’s head, showing the reader his prejudices but also his loyalty to his family and his capability to think in a different way to his fellows right from the start.
  • If you want to see an example of showing over telling done right, look no further. You don’t have to be told that the Jan’Tep are an insular society with a stagnating culture who are too concerned with clinging onto their magical strength and to their view of the past to even question whether their history is right. It becomes apparent to both the reader and to Kellen that the Jan’Tep aren’t the noble and powerful mages they make themselves out to be at all and all without being heavy-handed.
  • Nice world building even though the story takes place in a very limited area. The reader can see right away that the Jan’Tep are a proud people who have a strong connection with their traditions but they have nothing but contempt for outsiders and those born without magic. Power is all that matters to a Jan’Tep and it’s not hard to see why Ferius doesn’t think much of mages. The mage trials, when viewed in a certain light, also show a nastier part of Jan’Tep society, especially the fourth and final. I think it was a good idea not to reveal what each of the trials involve straightaway but to describe what they require as they happen and as Kellen loses more of his illusions about his people.
  • Doesn’t do much world building outside the Jan’Tep city but that is perfectly in-keeping with the Jan-Tep’s inward-looking and isolationist outlook. We get a few hints of a Darrowman empire, the itinerant Argosi and the long-dead Mardec people but nothing much. It’s just enough for the moment, though and gives plenty of room to expand on later.
  • Includes an animal sidekick later down the line. I’m not going to spoil what it is but he is awesome. He’s definitely my second favourite character and he and Kellen bounce off each other splendidly.
  • Now, the revelation of the big secret definitely took me by surprise. I’m going to be extra vague to avoid spoilers but the way it was revealed was extremely clever and the source was rather surprising. Thought I could see the vague shape of it, I didn’t see it coming at all.
  • Great ending that was a textbook showcase of Kellen’s character development and tying up some of the little loose ends while promising great things later in the series. I can’t wait to read the next book.

Goodreads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Did you agree with my rating? Can you think of a better word to describe it? Please let me know with a like, share or comment.

2 thoughts on “In One Word, Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell is…”

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